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Round-the-Island Race in St. Maarten Heineken Regatta

It’s an annual highlight not only of the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta, but of the entire Caribbean yacht-racing circuit.

The point-to-point round-St. Maarten race has something for everything: challenging currents and geographical features; wildly varying wind speeds and directions; inshore and offshore seaways; and this year, 148 competing yachts, all of which at times seem to be rounding the same mark at the same instant. The round-the-island race has something for every sailor, and appropriately, this year’s running, under sunny skies and ideal 14- to 18-knot breeze, was nothing less than an instant classic.

For such a seemingly complicated set of circumstances, the basic premise for the top racing classes competing on the 39-nautical-mile course decreed for the Race Committee A circle were deceptively simple: keep the islands of St. Maarten and Tintamarre on your right. For the remaining bareboat and racing divisions racing on the Race Committee B circle, the slightly shorter 37-nautical-mile round-the-island contest cut inside of Tintamarre, the rocky isle north of St. Maarten. But nothing about it was easy for any of the competitors.

For the A fleets, the race was actually like a theatre production or play staged in four acts. The first was from the starting line in Cole Bay, with a short windward leg of less than a mile, and then a spinnaker run down to a turning mark at the island’s southwest corner. From there, Act II was the long beat to weather up the Anguilla Channel and around Tintamarre. The third stanza involved easing sheets and setting reaching sails for the windy stretch down St. Maarten’s east coast. Finally, the fourth and final act commenced after jibing and negotiating a pair of turning marks down the southern flank of the island to the finish.

From the very outset, one thing was immediately clear. Local knowledge—the phrase sailors use when describing the home waters they know like the back of their hand—would play a huge role in the outcome. It was a day tailor made for the formidable crews from St. Maarten and the Caribbean, who regularly ply this liquid territory, to play to their considerable strengths. And play to them they did.

For the Day 2 round-the-island contest, Race Committee A reversed the starting order from Day 1, when the Grand Prix Ocean Racing and Multihull 1 classes kicked off the proceedings, followed by the smaller CSA 1-4 race boats. Today, CSA 4 was the first to go, and a pair of J/Boats—Jordan Mindich’s J/105, Solstice, and Tristan Marmousez’s J/109, Sang Neuf, from Martinique—showed excellent pace from the outset.

CSA 3 was next, and Antiguan Pamala Baldwin’s flashy J/122, Liquid; Sam Talbot’s J/111, Spike; and Peter Lewis’s J/121, Whistler, immediately mixed it up. Liquid and Spike were locked in some of the regatta’s closest competition, as Spike won both races over Liquid on Day 1 by an aggregate time of less than 25 seconds. Already, an early pattern was emerging: all the leading boats played the shore aggressively, with multiple short tacks up the beach; and it looked like it would be a very, very good day for both Caribbean sailors with that priceless local knowledge, and those sailing J/Boats.

By the time the Sportboat classes were under way, there was no disputing it; it was an excellent day to be a local. St. Maarten’s own Ian Hope Ross took early command of CSA Sportboat 1 aboard his Melges 32, Kick ’em Jenny 2, followed closely by another Melges 32, Puerto Rican Luis Juarbe’s Soca. And the CSA Sportboat 2 class was the sole domain of a trio of St. Maarten Yacht Club stalwarts: Andrea Scarabelli’s Melges 24, F.K.G.; Frits Bus’s Melges 24, Team Island Water World; and Jan Vanden Eynde’s Esse 850, Wanna B.

At the first major turning mark, the wind had eased considerably as the fleet dropped their kites and began the long slog up the Anguilla Channel. Soon, however, the breeze was back on. And it was readily apparent that there were two very clear, and different, approaches to negotiating the channel. The Ocean Racing 1 boats, like the Volvo 70 I Love Poland and the Volvo 65 Childhood 1, chose to stay outside, in the bigger wind and seas, opting for clear air and straight-line speed while limiting maneuvers. Meanwhile, the smaller boats like Liquid and Spike played a more tactical game, short tacking up the shoreline by the French beachfront towns of Marigot and Grand Case. It was fascinating to watch.

As the fleet emerged from the lee of St. Maarten into the open waters surrounding Tintamarre, it was true, blue-water ocean sailing and a stern test for all the competitors. Yachts including the X-402 MYXY and Whistler continued to hold an inshore route, tacking near the breakers off the pristine and empty wilderness of St. Maarten’s northwestern shoreline, far removed from the resorts and cruise ships. Meanwhile, powerful competitors like the Swan 80 Umiko shredded their way past the barren northern flank of Tintamarre. It was all a visual feast.

Once past Tintamarre, it was time to turn and burn down the east coast, with spinnakers and reachers once again the sail call for the blazing final legs of the eventful race. When the spray had settled, the day’s big winner was Liquid, with a decisive victory in CSA 3 and a third overall in fleet, behind the Ocean Racing 1 yachts I Love Poland and the pesky Cookson 50, Grace O’Malley.

Liquid owner Pamala Baldwin was effusive in her praise of her longtime crew, but deflected any strategic questions to tactician Hugh Mills, who said local knowledge gleaned from racing in the recent Caribbean 600, where Liquid was second overall in their class, played a huge role in the day’s results. “We had basically that same tactical beat up the Anguilla Channel and learned a lot,” he said.

“The first leg was just a matter of keeping our speed and short tacking up the shore to cover the fleet,” he said. “The long downwind stretch was just staying vigilant. The conditions were quite tough out there around Tintamarre but we ended up laying it spot on. From there we were trying to hold our line inside of Spike, they’re giving us some really good competition.”

“It was beautiful,” said Baldwin, speaking of both the sailing around St. Maarten, and of course of the day’s winning conclusion.

For complete results for all 17 classes, visit With two days in the 40th St. Maarten Heineken Regatta on the books, an epic weekend of sailing is waiting to unfold. Nothing yet is decided. Who will stand on the podium? It all remains to be seen.

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by St. Maarten Heineken Regatta

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